WHAT EARLY TRAVELLERS WROTE ABOUT THE MONASTERY

13th century: The famous Armenian historian Abu Salih wrote: “This Monastery possesses many endowments and possessions at Egypt. It is surrounded by a fortified wall. It contains many monks. Within the wall there is a large garden containing fruitful palm trees and apples trees and pear trees and pomegranate and other trees, beside beds of vegetables and three springs of perpetually flowing water with which the garden is irrigated and which the monks drink. One feddan and a sixth in the garden form a vineyard which supplies all that is needed and it is said that the number of palms which the garden contains is about a thousand trees, and there stands in it a large, well built fortress... There is nothing like it among the other monasteries inhabited by Egyptian monks.”

14th century: In 1395, Ogier VIII the Seigneur d’Anglure visited the Red Sea monasteries with French pilgrims and wrote: “The Monastery of St Antony was even more beautiful than that of St Catherine. Its inhabitants numbered one hundred monks – most holy, good-living, charitable, benign and self-denying Christians.”

15th century: The famous historian Al Maqrizi writing between 1419 and 1441 wrote: “To reach this Monastery one travels for three days by camel for it is located between the Eastern Mountain and the Sea of Qalzam. All kinds of fruits are planted in the Monastery and furthermore, it has three springs of running water. It was built by St Antony, and the monks of this Monastery fast throughout their whole life. Their fasting lasts until the evening when they do take food...”

A 16th century colophon dated 1506 in the Vatican library records the devastation that took place in the Monastery in the 15th century: “... The Monastery of our holy father Antonios, known as the Monastery of Al Araba in the desert of Al Qolzim inhabited by monks, was vacant without residents, ravaged by the Arabs, who ravaged the place utterly.”

16th century: The historian Leo Africanus who authored ‘History and Description of Africa’ between 1517-1520 wrote: “…among the monasteries of Egypt those of St Antony, St Paul, and St Macarius are the principal.”

17th century: In 1639 Father Gerard of Milan noted: “One is pulled up by a windlass in order to enter the Monastery because the doors are very high on account of their fear of wandering robbers. The Monastery is large... It is beautifully situated and is surrounded by a mountain. There is an abundance of water, many palms as well as olive trees and other fruits... The monks are warm and hospitable... They ate vegetables and rice and they drank water, and they ate only once a day; on fasting days they ate after sunset...”

1672: The German traveller Johann Wansleben wrote: “There is a great abundance of water, clear like crystal and cool... The Monastery has three churches. The main church is that of St Antony which is the oldest one. It is the only thing in the whole Monastery that was spared from the rage of the Arabs. The Church is decorated with paintings which are very antiquated... The smoke of incense which is burnt there everyday has rendered the pictures almost as black as a chimney. Near this Church is that of saints Peter and Paul which has a small steeple and a small handbell. The third Church is in the garden and is dedicated to a saint called Mark.”

18th century: In 1716, Father Claude Sicard from France recorded that he was welcomed by the fifteen monks of the Monastery who offered him coffee. He noted that there were thirty cells which were separated from each other and arranged in little streets. Their order gave the impression of a little town located in the desert. He comments on the luxuriant garden and perpetual water springs.

19th century: In 1843, Sir William Gardener wrote: “The Monastery of St Antony is located 17 or 18 miles from the sea and it may be considered the principal monastery in Egypt. Its importance is much increased since the election of the Coptic patriarch has been transferred to it from those at the Natroun lakes.”

20th century: In 1904, Mrs Agnes Smith Lewis, visiting from England, noted that she was not pulled up by a rope and windlass like other visitors, but entered through a small narrow door which was usually opened only once a year or when the patriarch would visit. She then visited the Cave of St Antony and noted: “One wriggles with difficulty into a circular chamber nearly filled with an altar of rock and earth on which the guide had placed a candle. To the right of this is where the saint slept.”

1928: When Johann Georg, the Duke of Saxony visited the Monastery, he wrote: “...even if the Syrian Monastery in Wadi Natroun was artistically more advanced and richer in treasures, the Monastery of St Antony was the wealthiest monastery I have seen in the Orient.”

One of the first visitors to reach the Monastery by car via the Suez-Ain Sokhna-Zafarana road was Father Chaine, who wrote that during his visit in 1936 the Monastery was inhabited by 35 monks: “The Monastery seemed like a little monastic village in which the spirit of hospitality was overwhelming.”

Until the beginning of the 20th century the only contact the Monastery had with the outside world was the monthly camel caravan that supplied the desert monks with food and necessities from the Dependency at Bush in the Nile valley. The journey from the Dependency to the Monastery took 3-4 days.